Understanding The Serious Nature Of Burnout
You may have recently seen in the media, or in your social media feeds that there is a certain buzz currently around a word – ‘Burnout’. It’s a word that we have thrown around in business for years when dealing in periods of high stress, when feeling overworked and as a great excuse for a period of leave. But did you realise that burnout is so serious that as of May 2019 it has started to be recognised as a medical issue by the World Health Organisation?
Normally, I like to keep these articles upbeat and light hearted around ways that you can improve your productivity or find ways to get through your checklist. But given the serious nature of Burnout and the mental health ramifications it can have, I really wanted to pen an article this month to help raise awareness on this topic and in doing so, help yourself and your managers spot when someone may be overwhelmed or stressed, versus on the brink of a complete shutdown. It is my hope that this article can help to raise further awareness of a topic that many of us just brush aside as a simple feeling or description of stress when it really is so much more.
So, what is Burnout?
Burnout is a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion that is brought on by a period of excessive and prolonged stress. You may start off feeling overwhelmed, emotionally drained and unable to meet the ongoing demands of your role or your team, but when these feelings do not resolve, you continue to remain stuck in a negative mental state. Someone in this state of exhaustion will be showing overt signs of reduced productivity, low energy levels and a negative outlook as they feel helpless and resentful of the situation they find themselves in.
When compared with a highly stressed individual, sufferers of burnout will feel mentally exhausted, devoid of motivation and beyond caring for their situation. Those in high stress situations can see their way out by getting everything under control, whilst those with burn out tend to feel bogged down and trapped in their situation, unable to see any hope in their situation.
How do I know if I am burned out?
Whilst at this time of year many of us will feel overloaded, overworked and sometimes unappreciated, ongoing feelings of these nature, or an ever-lingering exhaustion when you drag yourself out of bed may be a key indicator that you are on your way to burnout.
It’s worth noting that burnout develops overtime, gradually building if you don’t know the signs or warnings in advance. Symptoms can include:
- Extended feelings of being tired and drained
- Frequently getting sick due to a lowered immunity
- Changes to your appetite or an inability to sleep
- Loss of motivation
- Skipping work or coming in late/leaving early
- Procrastination or taking longer to get things done
- Becoming isolated from others (including your family)
- Taking your frustrations out on others ether verbally or physically
What can I do if I notice these signs in myself or others?
The key point here is to know that the idea of pushing through the exhaustion or encouraging others just to ‘buck up’ or ‘ride it out’ will only cause further emotional and physical damage. At the time you notice there is an issue, you need to stop and take action to prevent the continued downward spiral.
What can I do to help prevent or deal with Burnout?
One of the best first steps you can take is reaching out and talking to someone. It should be someone you are close with and make you feel they can be trusted to confide in about how you are feeling. They don’t need to need to have all the answers or be able to fix your stressors on the spot, but sometimes talking to someone about how you are feeling and verbalising your situation can help.
Another key factor is taking a break to recharge your batteries and get your head back into a positive state. If your business has mental health days, take the time to utilise this, ensuring you use the time to step away from your phone and laptop to truly disconnect from your stressors. However, the key thing here is to recognise that things need to change on your return. It may be having a meeting with your team to discuss accountabilities on projects or delegation of tasks that are adding to your stress, setting boundaries on what you say “yes” and “no” to taking or, or even taking a walk at lunch to give yourself 15 minutes of clear headspace.
Finally, if your business has an EAP or Employee Assistance Program make an appointment to speak with a mental health professional. They will be able to give you clear advice on coping strategies, building resilience or proactive ways of handing stress.
In no way is this piece a diagnostic tool for burnout, but more a conversation starter so you can be aware of the symptoms in yourself and others. Mental health is an area that many shy away from talking about due to the stigma attached to it, however I implore your business to start the conversation and encourage others to speak up when they need the support. Having a policy in place around mental health and wellbeing is a great place to start this process and one our HR OnDemand team can assist with this if you are not sure where to begin. Given we spend more time with our work buddies and team mates than with our own families, we need to watch out for and support each other when we are in a dark place.
If you identify yourself or someone as showing signs of mental health issues, they can reach out to services such as Beyond Blue who have a 24 hour/7 day a week helpline (1300 22 4636) or an online chat system that can be accessed through this link (click here).